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Tennessee vs UAB Preview - The Deep Breath Before The Plunge

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We may not have won, but we looked good on camera.
We may not have won, but we looked good on camera.

If you're looking for goals for the Vols on Saturday, consider these numbers:  548 yards of balanced total offense (282 pass - 266 run), two running backs with over 90 yards and over 8 ypc, eight different receivers catch passes.

That's what the mighty Clawfense did to UAB two years ago, though because it's still my job to make sure Dave Clawson suffers on this site, let's also point out that the warning signs and the potential for deception were noticeable even then.  Still, that was an atrocious Tennessee offense playing against a UAB team with Joe Webb at quarterback, and the Vols put up good numbers and won 35-3.

This is a limited Tennessee offense that's capable of having its moments - the risk is less and the reward is greater than what we saw two years ago.  The Blazers, last seen with the worst pass defense in all of college football in 2009, should be willing to play along if the Vols want to open it up some on Saturday.

But this is it until November 6 - there are no free wins with these Vols, and another one won't come cheap until Tiger High in seven weeks.  A lot can and will happen between now and then, and the worst of it could find Tennessee on the cusp of staying home for the holidays, needing to run the table in the season's final month to get bowl eligible.

If the Vols are going to write a different story in what will be the most challenging October in school history, they could certainly use the boost of a good performance against UAB on Saturday to get to 2-2, and to get there with hopes raised instead of a sweat broken.

We've seen some good things from this team already, and have some reason to be optimistic.  Here's how the Vols can help that cause on Saturday:

No interceptions from Matt Simms

The two biggest plays in Tennessee's season thus far have been Matt Simms interceptions.  Given the quality of the opponent and Simms' general inexperience, it's way too early to say that the kid is turnover prone, and he hasn't made a slew of additional bad decisions either.  But if he comes out and starts throwing them to the other team against the vaunted UAB secondary, then I'm more inclined to believe we have a real problem here.

The nature of the opponent also means we shouldn't get too excited if Simms drops 275 yards and 4 TDs against the Blazers.  Matt is still making progress, and if the Vols are capable of making big plays in the passing game against something more than Florida's busted coverage, we'll find out in Baton Rouge.  For now, he just needs to play a clean game this week against an opponent that should certainly allow it.

No really, we can run the football.

It's one thing for Florida's defense to shut down the Vol running attack, that's been happening ever since Urban Meyer stepped on campus in Gainesville.  But what's the more realistic picture of the Vol rushing attack right now:  182 yards against Oregon, or 29 yards against Florida?

UAB's run defense is better than its secondary, but the Vols should still be able to do whatever they want, and I still believe Tauren Poole is a legit SEC back.  He picked up 43 yards on 9 carries against the Blazers two years ago as a backup...but I think we'd love to see triple digits from him again this week.  Tennessee needs to go to LSU believing in its running game - that belief was shaken against the Gators, but it can certainly be restored here.

No injuries.

Please.  Thanks.

No idea who's playing at defensive tackle

I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw Rae Sykes get in the game on Saturday, then couldn't believe my ears when I heard "tackled by Joseph Ayres", because I'd never heard that name before.  I was seriously convinced Bobby Denton had it wrong until I read about him a couple of places after the game.

It's true that Tennessee's front four struggle mightily to get an effective pass rush, which is also nothing new.  But seeing guys like Sykes, Ayres, and Victor Thomas get in the mix regularly behind Gerald Williams and Montori Hughes is a good sign, helping keep bodies fresh and getting young guys more experience.  Like the offensive line, the more we see of these guys, the better we may ultimately feel, but just having five bodies in the mix isn't a terrible thing to begin with.

No more special teams disasters

Eric Gordon is pretty fearless to be back there fielding kicks, as this week the Vols improve to 117th in the nation with -6 total yards in punt returns.  Seriously, can we set up some kind of return scheme?  A real one?

The savior returns to kickoff this week, as Chad Cunningham has been benched in favor of freshman phenom-to-be Michael Palardy.  Cunningham hasn't been terrible, but two of his kicks - the shanked punt against Oregon and the kickoff out of bounds against Florida - have been the deathblow to Vol momentum.  And of course, an equally vicious blow was the Gator fake punt that made sure the Vols never threatened to take the lead again.

Against Florida, I felt relieved just to tackle their kick returners at the 35.  Against UAB, we need to push them back.  In August, if I'd have told you that after three games, the only good thing about our special teams play would be Daniel Lincoln, you'd have asked why Palardy wasn't kicking.  We'll take Lincoln's healthy leg...but we'll also hope that we aren't kicking too many field goals this week.